2016 Panther Draft Prospect Profile: Alex DeBrincat
The market for small, high-skill forwards in the NHL is suddenly alive and well, but not all teams are ready to forego size. Will that fact leave this high-scorer for the Cats at the 23 pick?
- Position: C
- Current team: Erie Otters (OHL)
- Date of Birth: December 18, 1997
- Birthplace: Farmington Hills, MI
- Height: 5'7"
- Weight:: 163 lbs
- Shoots: Right
Question: Does a hockey team that likely sports the following in their top 6: 6'3" 6'6" 6'1" 6'0" 5'11" 5'10" require another big body? Before we get to that, what is listed there are the Panthers likely mid to long term top-6 forwards (Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Reilly Smith, Jussi Jokinen, and Vincent Trocheck). With that in mind, many are saying the Panthers can afford to take an undersized forward in this year's draft. With a big need at right wing, a highly skilled right-handed forward, regardless of size, could be an excellent fit. Good news Panther fans, there is just such a player that many think will be available at the 23rd pick who fits that bill: Alex DeBrincat.
Question: Is Alex DeBrincat more famous for being Connor McDavid's linemate in 2015-16 in Erie, or for being short? I don't have an answer for that, but I know that his lack of size has been made into a big issue. Ah, my LBC friends, perhaps that is about to change. With the smaller, faster Tampa Bay Lightning and Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins being studied and likely copied, small, fast players may once again gain demand in the NHL. After all, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery....
Do you think that is all the questions we have? I hope not, because there are more. Question: do the Panthers still believe a smaller, faster player can succeed on the team after what appear to be uncertain experiments with Rocco Grimaldi and Kyle Rau? The jury is still out on both of those fronts, but neither of those players has played themselves out of contention. So as a right-handed player (like Grimaldi), DeBrincat is certainly a player that is in consideration.
I will warn you now, this may make you salivate, from Elite Prospects:
DeBrincat is a small player with a dynamic skill set. He is a pure sniper, scoring over 50 goals in two straight years in the OHL. He is very undersized, but can be very nasty to play against and shies away from no one. He had to deal with injuries at the 2016 World Junior Championship, but that did not hamper his production when he returned to the OHL. He skates well and is very effective around the net. He is hard to contain for such a small player, and has great chemistry with anyone he plays with. A decade player in the OHL.
That sounds fantastic, but it also sounds a lot like what the scouting report was on Rocco Grimaldi as a prospect, other than one intriguing thing: DeBrincat is more of a pure goal scorer. The two (strangely similar looking) prospects took different routes in the prospect pipeline, with Grimaldi going the more defensive, physical NCAA route. It's hard to evaluate them against one another as a result. DeBrincat has scored a lot more. Let me emphasize here- A LOT. And that's not just with Connor McDavid on the team (where he scored 51 regular season goals in 68 games). This season, without McDavid, on a less successful Erie Otters team, DeBrincat scored ..... (wait for it) 51 goals AGAIN, but this time in 60 regular season games.
The rankings are right in the 23rd pick neighborhood: 33rd by Hockeyprospect.com, 26th by ISS Hockey, 25th by Future Considerations, 37th by McKeens Hockey, and 21st by NHL Central Scouting for North American Skaters. The question is right there, and it's unavoidable- is this kid going to be a gifted goal scorer or just too small for the NHL? That level of uncertainty and risk is what has him ranked in the high 20's or low 30's and the answers won't come until he gets to the NHL. That is high risk, and it's hard to justify high risk in the 1st round.
Does he fit in Florida?
Several mock drafts have the Panthers taking DeBrincat. Maybe he would be a steal at 23. Consider this:
The elephant in the room. You simply can’t avoid talking about Erie Otters superstar winger Alex DeBrincat without a mention of how tall he is. And while the professional leagues are inclined to take a chance on undersized skill forwards far more than they used to, even widespread agreement on just how darn good this kid is may still prevent him from being ranked where we think he would be if he was a bit taller than 5’7. Regardless, the Michigan native has done a pretty good job silencing critics who at first said he was too small for both the U.S. National Team Development Program (he was cut from the U17 squad) and the OHL (was passed over in two OHL Priority Selections). Today, DeBrincat is the Canadian Hockey League’s most prolific goal scorer, and there is nothing anyone can point towards to successfully argue that. Blessed with the softest yet quickest set of hands of any 2016 draft eligible, he continues to find ways to make up for the difference in size by identifying the correct time to shift gears and elude coverage. His release is devastatingly rapid, and can even wire off a shot if the pass is behind him or in his skates. DeBrincat may be small by hockey standards, but he’s a tenacious battler who will get into those tough areas around the cage, as well as throw a hit without deviating from his primary objective of scoring goals. He thinks the game at a very high level, and is the last guy you would catch taking a shift off. You could even classify him as a glutton for punishment because he seemingly thrives when futile attempts are made to bruise and batter him into submission. DeBrincat is the ultimate competitor, but it’s been so long since he’s slumped, you have to wonder how he handles it at the next level, and against bigger, smarter opponents no less. But at this rate, he’s certainly worth the risk, even in the later stages of the first round of next June’s Entry Draft.
Debrincat is special, there is no doubt about it. But those who predict the Panthers taking him may not have a full understanding of the quandary the Cats still find themselves in about Grimaldi's future, and that suggests to me that the Cats are likely to take a pass. But if they do call his name, it will suggest that the new analytics folks running the show are confident that this player is different, and if so, we'll love him as we do Rocco and Kyle.